Rugby Players mindset, and returning to play

Gallagher Premiership

To say these are ‘uncharted waters’ within the English Premiership would be an understatement. And as we await the return of any rugby in England, what impact has Covid-19 brought on not only to the game but, to rugby players mindset?

Those considerations are detailed here by Mark Holman, as well as the process of returning to play after such a drastic pause in their season.

The rugby players mindset

Life as a professional rugby player is about having support staff around you, being the best you can be, and peaking at the right moment of the season. Take some of these elements away and the impact can have a big effect on you.

Lockdown brought this home to many quite rapidly. One minute you are just starting to come to towards the latter part of the season, for some the most vital part [with Relegation and/or Premiership playoffs in mind]. The next minute, the entire country is brought to a standstill with an outbreak of a terrible virus. Locked out of the game you are employed to play. Suddenly, put on pause.

A general view of Ashton Gate Stadium home of the Bristol Bears following the suspension of all matches due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

For you, as a player, it comes down to moments like this; even more so if your contract is up come the end of season.

Isolation for anyone is tough, fine for a bit and then the demons set in and thoughts enter your head, Am I good enough? Do I fit in? It can have a detrimental effect on you as a person. The need to stay strong and have a good support network around you has never been greater.

Support network is a rugby player’s best friend

The RPA (Rugby Players Association) has kept in contact with players and so have many clubs, but you cannot replace the camaraderie that exists within a squad and the craic, that is always around.

Chris Robshaw of Harlequins speaks to his side during a post match huddle during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Harlequins at Ashton Gate on March 08, 2020 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

For any player that has gone through a long term injury, they will have experienced some form of isolation from teammates, but the lockdown has been different. The whole squad is on the outside looking in and no wonder we have seen and witnessed a whole new world of players using the positives of social media, with competitive games and an upsurge in Zoom calls.

I was involved with one of these calls, with a few ex-International players and coaches, who will remain nameless, not all based in England. We all spoke about an important part of a player’s downtime and this was the transition, what is life like, after rugby. Players have had time to reflect even more than ever before and its important that time is used wisely. Career ending injuries, like lockdown, can come just as suddenly and you are then defiantly on your own, on the outside looking in.

Insight from Tom Lindsay

I spoke with Tom Lindsay of Bristol Bears, another player who has just taken the decision to retire from the game and he has recently opened up to reveal his anxiety and depression, which has been with him for a long time. I have known Tom for quite a while and never knew but, then nor did his teammates.

You keep things like this hidden, not wanting to let yourself or others down.

Tom Lindsay poses for a Bristol Bears squad photo call (Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

One fear factor is that – if you do open up – then what will others think of you? Will this affect selection, or your career?

There are very limited independent associations where you can speak openly without being judged in a bad light. It’s not just rugby but in other sports too. And you see it every day in workplace. Examples of fear, anxiety – all pointers to the wrong mindset, yet all natural everyday thoughts.

Yet more often, held within.

For a rugby player going into training, being around teammates can help. Without those ‘safe’ feelings you get from being with a group, it just intensifies the demons and keeping them in check has never been greater then before or now.

Returning to play and creating the right mindset

Players have now returned to their clubs and are back into training programmes, albeit in smaller pods and stage one contact is restricted to no more than 15 minutes. As we move towards the start of Premiership Rugby on Aug 14 it will be fascinating to see which club has got its players best prepared, not only in fitness terms. but the right mindset too.

Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks were the in-form clubs and will be interesting to see if they can resume to this intensity. Which clubs have there mental strength in the right place, to start where they left off. It is thought these two teams, will fight it out for the Final.  This might not be the case, but one thing is for sure a rugby players mindset has never been so important and how many negative demons will be hiding only to return in later life.

Rugby is about looking after teammates and way beyond their playing careers. Return to play cannot come soon enough for many. Yet the one thing Covid-19 is teaching all off us, is keep in touch and it’s okay to ask for help.


Last Word on Rugby would like to thank all contributors to this article. If you or anyone you know may require support, contact your club or nearest health professional. 


Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images